3D printing has come a long way since the first commercial printer models were introduced to the market with a sense of space-age novelty in the early 1990s. But where is this technology taking us, in terms of business and industrial use? Let’s take a look.

The technology of the future

Here at One Beyond, we like to explore and visualise the technology landscape of the future. However, when it comes to 3D printing, it seems like the future isn’t actually very far away.

We are already seeing huge strides being made in the 3D printing industry. Basic printers are becoming more affordable and smaller in size, making the technology accessible for organisations with smaller budgets and premises. Meanwhile, the high-end machines are becoming incredibly advanced and specialised – opening up a whoe world of opportunity.

How 3d printing impacts business

These are some of the ways in which we see 3D printing influencing the future of business:

  • Sending prototypes to investors
    We’re used to emailing each other documents to print and sign. But in a future where 3D printers are more ubiquitous, we may well see a scenario where we share product ideas by allowing investors and partners to print out prototypes remotely. This gives them instant access to what the product looks and feels like, speeding up the process of feedback, decision-making and quality control.
  • Spare parts for repair
    Imagine being an engineer tasked with repairing a piece of machinery at a customer site, and you need a particular spare part that you don’t carry as standard. Rather than the repair job being held up while you wait for your supplier to send out the part you need from a warehouse somewhere, you are able to print the part you need – using an on-board 3D printer in your workman’s van.
  • Instant recycling
    With so much focus on the negative impact of plastic and the call on alternative materials, there is quite likely a future for a combination of recycling and 3D printing. We’ve already seen innovations in the field of granulating and processing plastics, but there’s potential for a much more commoditised solution in the future. Perhaps we’ll see the average household shredding its plastic waste and instantly turning it into a selection of new household items. There is huge potential for saving money and energy, as well as reducing waste.
  • Large construction projects
    Perhaps one of the most impressive uses of 3D printing technology we have seen so far is the Digital Construction Platform by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This mobile printing system is able to produce an entire building structure in one session, using a giant robotic arm working in tandem with a high-precision one.
    By proving the machine’s capability of fabricating a 12-foot high dome in less than 14 hours, they have perhaps unlocked the future of high-speed construction. We can expect to see not only faster and cheaper construction projects, but MIT also has a vision of self-sufficient systems that can operate in very remote locations – including other planets.
  • Printing in healthcare
    We’ve seen huge advancements in the scientific and medical use of 3D printing in areas such as dental implants, prostheses, drug composition, bone and cartilage printing, and even the creation of synthetic skin, organ cells and blood vessels. As innovation continues, we can expect to see new, creative uses of the technology that may transform the entire healthcare landscape. We may face a future where we can sidestep the need for human donors, by being able to instantly 3D print fully functioning organs, tissue and even blood.
  • Anything-on-demand
    The idea of producing items only when needed is something many manufacturers dream of. By being able to meet demand instantly, scale production up or down as required, and reduce the amount of stock held in warehouses, companies can capitalise on opportunities quicker while also saving money. This opens up new markets for providing not only the machinery but also the raw materials that feed into 3D production lines on a small as well as on a large scale. There are existing examples of printing food, fabrics, shoes, glasses, woodwork, complete cars, and much more.

Riding the 3D printing innovation wave

Although many of us may not yet see any major implications of 3D printing in our businesses, it’s highly likely that we will be affected by it at some point in the future. Whether you are in manufacturing, retail or professional services, you may find 3D printing impacting your industry and – hopefully – offering opportunities to work better and more efficiently.